Of all the projects that have been completed in Hartford in the past decade, one of the biggest and most important was also one of the first: The Learning Corridor.
Located on a 16-acre site between Trinity College and the Institute of Living, The Learning Corridor is home to four schools. It was completed and opened in September 2000 at a cost of approximately $112 million.
The driving force behind The Learning Corridor - and numerous other initiatives - was SINA, the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance.
SINA's roots stretched back over three decades. The organization was formed in the 1970's by three of the largest institutions in Hartford's Southside, Hartford Hospital, Trinity College, and the Institute of Living. These institutions wanted to form a permanent partnership to improve the neighborhood surrounding them. That partnership was eventually named SINA, an effort that would work jointly with residents, organizations, and businesses to comprehensively enhance quality of life.
Current SINA member institutions are Connecticut Children's Medical Center, Hartford Hospital and Trinity College. Current Executive Director Luis Cabán took over the organization's top post from Eddie Perez in 2001 after the latter was elected mayor of Hartford.
Although The Learning Corridor is probably the most visible SINA project, the organization has also been very active over the past decade in improving education, housing, public safety, and other quality of life aspects of the Southside neighborhood.
In the early 1990's, SINA recognized that substandard and blighted housing was becoming a serious problem in Hartford. The economic downturn of the early 1990's had left many apartment buildings vacant while others had fallen into the hands of absentee landlords who frequently turned a deaf ear to tenant complaints.
SINA, working in concert with lending institutions, community groups, contractors, and other entities, launched Cityscape Homes, a major effort to increase the Southside's homeownership rate and resident property owners. Some dilapidated buildings were extensively renovated through SINA's Cityscape Apartments effort. Others were demolished and new, less dense housing was built in their place. To date, SINA has made approximately 200 quality housing units available to low and middle income city residents. This effort was conducted in tandem with a citywide effort to increase Hartford's homeownership rate.
The Learning Corridor was just one manifestation of SINA's commitment to education. In 1981, the organization started the Scholar of the Month program to recognize and encourage academic achievement throughout the city high schools. In 1997 it established the Ivan A. Backer Scholarship, SINA's first executive director, awarded to Bulkeley High School graduates going on to 4-year colleges and universities. Over $157,000 in scholarships have been awarded to students since the scholarship was founded.
SINA also helped found the Melanie Rosado and Al Mulcahey scholarships. The former honors an outstanding Bulkeley High School student athlete who died tragically at age 18. The latter recognizes the unselfish contribution to student personal development and athletic achievement by a beloved swimming coach at both Bulkeley and Hartford Public high schools.
Sponsorship of the Hartford Public Schools annual Science Fair is SINA's latest endeavor in support of learning. In addition to financial support, volunteers from SINA member institutions (doctors, nurses, technicians, etc.) judge and rate student science projects. Winners are recognized and given awards in an evening ceremony. Volunteers with specific science backgrounds also visit classrooms to speak with students about the importance of science in their lives and provide encouragement to pursue science based careers.Over the years, SINA has been assisted by numerous individuals who have gone "above and beyond" to improve the quality of life in the Southside neighborhood. To recognize these individuals, SINA instituted an annual Neighborhood Service Awards program.
SINA, in cooperation with Organización de Puertorriqueños Unidos was also instrumental in giving the predominantly Latino neighborhood a source of pride that will last for generations to come. On September 23, 2009, El Monumento a la Familia Puertorriqueña" (Monument to the Puerto Rican Family) was unveiled at the northeast corner of the Learning Corridor.
As for SINA's plans for the upcoming decade, Executive Director Luis Cabán said, "We've accomplished much and have even succeeded in bringing private investment back into the neighborhood as well as in giving residents a sense of pride. Our attention must now focus on strengthening the economic foundation necessary to sustain a vibrant neighborhood."